These African Elephants Are Fighting Climate Change — By Trampling Trees!

Jul 01, 2022by Olivia - F&F

In the dense rainforests of West and Central Africa, the African Forest Elephant is wreaking havoc on vegetation. Although it might seem destructive, the gentle giants are actually helping to fight climate change! Let’s see how this unusual phenomenon works, and why carbon offset companies are capitalising on this rare opportunity.

African Forest Elephant HerdAfrican Forest Elephant Herd

Image: USO / Canva

Here’s Why African Forest Elephants Are Known As “Mega-Gardeners”

By grazing, trampling, and munching their way through African rainforests, these elephants are providing an invaluable service to the forest ecosystem and our climate! Known as “mega-gardeners of the forest”, African Forest Elephants increase the amount of carbon that the forest can absorb. 

By destroying smaller plants — which compete with larger trees for light, water and space — these elephants are actually helping larger trees to flourish. Interesting, right? These slow-growing trees store more carbon in their trunks, which is fantastic news for our climate. The strange phenomenon was uncovered in 2019 by Fabio Berzaghi and a researchers team.

Elephants are a ‘keystone species’, meaning that they play a vital role in maintaining the biodiversity of their habitat.

African Forest Elephant CalfAfrican Forest Elephant Calf

Image: USO / Canva

Forest Elephants’ Carbon Capture Services Are Worth Millions!

Just one African Forest Elephant can boost carbon capture by 9,500 metric tonnes of CO2 per sq km of forest. That's equivalent to taking 2,047 petrol cars off the road for 1 year! 

So, can we put a price on the carbon capture services of African Forest Elephants? According to Ralph Chami of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), you can! The carbon capture services of a single African Forest Elephant is valued at $1.75 million — and if the entire herd was restored to its former population of 1.2 million —  the planetary services would be worth $36 billion.

"The forest elephant is a natural asset that provides value to us over its lifetime. A living elephant provides services worth millions. It's helping us fight climate change,” Chami said.

African Elephant SafariAfrican Elephant Safari

Image: Shaun / Canva

Forest Elephants’ Services Represent A “Nature-Based Solution”

Lately, carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology has proven to be an expensive and ineffective endeavour. The technology aims to replicate how our oceans, vegetation, soil, and rocks naturally absorb and store carbon, which is commonly referred to as ‘nature-based solutions’. 

The carbon capture services of African Forest Elephants is a perfect example of a nature-based solution, which, according to the latest IPCC report, represents a “crucial tool” to tackle climate change. "We're not going to get to carbon neutrality if we don't invest in nature-based solutions," Berzaghi said.

Sadly, African Forest Elephants are Critically Endangered due to poaching and deforestation. A couple of hundred thousand forest elephants were lost between 2002-2013 alone.

African Forest Mossy TreesAfrican Forest Mossy Trees

Image: Urilix / Canva

Selling Forest Elephants’ Carbon Services — Genius Or Unethical?

We’ve all heard of ‘carbon offsets’, which companies typically purchase to cancel out their emissions. These offsets typically exist in the form of tree-planting schemes or renewable energy projects. But, what if these credits extended to living beings?

One startup in Gabon — Rebalance Earth — is selling ‘ecosystem tokens’, which represent the carbon capturing services of the forest elephants. In exchange, the money is used to protect elephants and employ park rangers.

We know it sounds odd, but considering that the extinction of forest elephants would result in the loss of 3 billion tonnes of carbon stores (7% in total) within Central African rainforests — we can’t help but wonder whether this scheme represents the last resort for this precious species.

Losing forest elephants in Central Africa would have the same result as adding 2 billion petrol-powered to our roads over the course of a year!

What do you think about African Forest Elephant carbon offsets? We can see its merits, but we’re not sure how it would be regulated. Nevertheless, we know that this precious species needs to be protected from poaching and deforestation — not just for the health of Africa’s forests, but also for the health of our climate!

For interesting discoveries in the animal kingdom, check out our Eco News category and the blogs below.

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